Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla: Biography of a Genius

ISBN: 0806519606
ISBN 13: 9780806519609
By: Marc Seifer William H. Terbo

Check Price Now


Audiobook Audiobooks Biographies Biography Currently Reading History Non Fiction Nonfiction Science To Read

About this book

Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), credited as the inspiration for radio, robots, and even radar, has been called the patron saint of modern electricity. Based on original material and previously unavailable documents, this acclaimed book is the definitive biography of the man considered by many to be the founding father of modern electrical technology. Among Tesla's creations were the channeling of alternating current, fluorescent and neon lighting, wireless telegraphy, and the giant turbines that harnessed the power of Niagara Falls.

Reader's Thoughts

Fred Hughes

That Tesla was a genius is a given.This book goes deeper than that and at times he does appear to be a wizard. Highly educated, fluent in 12 languages, and a prolific reader Tesla even when young would not just accept something as fact just because some authority figure told him. If it didn’t make sense he would investigate it with vigour.That was both a positive and negative attribute as once he got something in his mind to work on he would do so without appropriate rest until he collapsed. He was driven in the true sense of the word.Seifer’s research for this book must have been intensive as it comprehensive in what is included.Great mind, Great Book

Esa Ruoho

Well researched but disruptive biography on Nikola Tesla. Loaded with intrigue and drama. Author completely opposed to Nikola Tesla's Free Energy projects. He also takes the time to write a full chapter about how John Ernst Worrell Keely was a charlatan and a fake -- when you actually do proper research, you realize that Tesla and Keely were truly progressive inventors and researchers, Tesla into electricity, Keely into sound. Biographer is unqualified to make statements on Tesla's energy research, but still makes them. This is a biography which can be read by those who are not interested in anything Tesla did technologically / technically. This is for those who like to know where Tesla lived, which address, or whether he was straight or not. It's quite sad that this is held up as one of the best biographies on Nikola Tesla.

Constantin Minov

Nicola Tesla was the discoverer of the AC polyphase system, the induction motor, fluorescent lights, mechanical and electrical oscillators, a novel steam propulsion system, wireless transmission of intelligence, light, and power, remote control, and interplanetary communication.He was a great electrical and mechanical engineer but despite this Tesla failed to make the right business decisions He first found employment with Thomas Edison by meeting him in New York.Edison was working on an direct current motor and he offered 50 thousands dollars to improve his primitive machine.Tesla worked eighteen hours a day finding ways to improve it but once he finished it Edison took the offer back stating that it was a joke.Edison was a businessman , the only thing he invented for real, is the electric chair, One thing Edison was better that Tesla is the market strategies which he employed workers and then neglecting the patents to be in their names.He once said that he had no need to be a mathematician because he could always hire one."Everybody steals in commerce and industry. I’ve stolen a lot myself. But I know how to steal -Thomas Edison, 1847-1931" George Westinghouse also hired Tesla for a short time as a consultant.They completely funded Tesla’s research and offered him a royalty agreement on future profits but in short time after patents were filed in his name, other scientists came across, taking credit for the invention, once again his name was lost in the shuffle. J. P. Morgan also made his best to ensure the inventor’s defeat, the monopolistic drive of Morgan "was greatly defined by controlling the price and distribution of energy and maintaining a working class to support the giant corporate monopolies"I'm quoting the author of "the 48 laws of power" Robert Greene who also mentioned about Tesla in his book: "The financiers had divested Tesla of the riches, the patents, and essentially the credit for the greatest invention of his career.The name of Guglielmo Marconi is forever linked with the invention of radio. But few know that in producing his invention—he broadcast a signal across the English Channel in 1899—Marconi made use of a patent Tesla had filed in 1897, and that his work depended on Tesla’s research. Once again Tesla received no money and no credit. Tesla invented an induction motor as well as the AC power system, and he is the real “father of radio.” Yet none of these discoveries bear his name. As an old man, he lived in poverty." Tesla argued that science had nothing to do with politics, and claimed not to care for fame and riches"This was a a quite different biography, the book illustrates how a monopoly market power can ruin an individual scientific work.Lesson to Teach:"First, the credit for an invention or creation is as important, if not more important, than the invention itself. You must secure the credit for yourself and keep others from stealing it away, or from piggy-backing on your hard work. To accomplish this you must always be vigilant and ruthless, keeping your creation quiet until you can be sure there are no vultures circling overhead. Second, learn to take advantage of other people’s work to further your own cause. Time is precious and life is short. If you try to do it all on your own, you run yourself ragged, waste energy, and burn yourself out. It is far better to conserve your forces, pounce on the work others have done, and find a way to make it your own.-- Robert Greene"

Jason Bergman

A fascinating look at the life of a strange and brilliant man. This is very much a warts and all approach to his life, which is a good thing, in my opinion. Tesla may have been a genius, but he was not a very practical man, and he had a deep self-destructive streak to him. There's a lot of great stuff in here, not the least of which is the appendix which examines whether or not Tesla's Wardenclyffe tower, which pretty much destroyed him financially (and mentally) could have ever been successful (probably not). Seifer's text can be a little dry, but then it also swings to unusual moments of overdramatic prose. It's a little strange. I chalk that up to Seifer recycling bits from his doctoral thesis (just a guess). In any event, it's good enough, and Tesla's life was full of enough drama that even the dry bits are pretty interesting. Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla is an excellent book. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the life of one of the greatest scientific minds the world has ever known.

Tony Heyl

I hadn't read much about Tesla's life and inventions, so I thought this would be enlightening and a pleasure to read. As a person interested in science and technology, this seemed like a great choice. Instead, it was pretty boring. In some ways, Tesla comes across as the genius he is, being at the forefront of the electronic age and developing solutions and ideas for wireless communication, light, and electricity for all. On the other hand, his financial problems and his issues with getting credit for his own work could have been addressed if he just had an attorney helping him along the way. I became less sympathetic towards him as the story progressed as a result.The bigger problem for me in this book was the lack of context to the rest of the country and world. Good biographies weave a tapestry with the fabric of society at the time it was written or the context of the topic. See Robert Caro explaining the history of the Senate before writing about LBJ's time as Majority Leader or Nixonland as good examples. This is a timeline story of Tesla, with not enough to bring it back to really show the contrasts between this European immigrant and American inventers and his true place in history. Despite the work that Seifer clearly put into the book, it feels on the level of a high school thesis instead of a great biography.I wouldn't recommend this. It's not engaging enough, though the content is at times interesting.

Morgan Blackledge

I'm embarrassed to admit it, but before reading this book, somewhere in the back of my mind, I had pretty much bought into the new age mythology that Tesla was a mystic genius visionary who was the victim of Edison's jealous, evil industrialist thievery and sabotage. Now, after reading accounts of Tesla's embarrassing social, financial and professional missteps, his ridiculous pleading correspondences to J.P. Morgan (and other wealthy would-be benefactors), and less than half baked journal submissions (particularly the one that interpreted a three beat radio transmission as a communication from intelligent extra terrestrials), I'm seeing Tesla in a whole new light. Rather than a victim of conspiratorial thuggery, I now see Tesla as a victim of his own chronic douchiness.Tesla was clearly decades ahead of his peers. But being "ahead of your time", contrary to hipster dogma, is not necessarily a good thing. Tesla had amazing ideas. But good ideas without good execution are about useless, where as even mediocre ideas, well executed, can at least be useful to someone. Tesla was with out a doubt, an amazing inventor. But it's hard not to feel like he could have achieved so much more if he wasn't such a dysfunctional, self sabotaging, grandiose douche bag.This book is a well done (if a little long) biography of a fascinating (to say the least) character from a fascinating time. But the real value of the book is as a cautionary tale of how unchecked cognitive biases (see: confirmation bias) and magical thinking can be the undoing of even brilliant and talented people like Tesla. Be warned; if your model of reality becomes too divorced from actual reality, you may needlessly fritter away your hard work and talent on some really ridiculous shit. Read this book, particularly if you like biographies of scientists, but if you're one of those Tesla worshipers, be prepared to deify the guy a whole lot less upon completion. Ultimately, the book renders a portrait of Tesla that is humane and realistic. Uncovering Tesla's scammy shenanigans, unexamined self delusions and outrageous foibles, while concurrently celebrating his incredible creativity and authentic brilliance.BTW: a film is in production starring (self serious, tortured) Christian Bale as Tesla. I think (brilliant, trixter, clown) Sacha Baron-Cohen would make for a better, more realistic, funner film.

Peter McGarvey

Since Tesla was such a fascinating personality I was expecting this biography to be a bit more dynamic. That said, Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla is still a great read albeit a bit dry.There is room however, for a definitive biography of one of the great characters in the drama that was the 20th century.

Jeni Enjaian

If I could give half stars, I would give this book 3.5. I enjoyed it but it wasn't quite good enough to warrant 4 stars. When I first started listening, I got really excited to learn that the author was determined to stick to strict chronology. For a biography this makes so much sense. I'm pleased to report that aside from a few necessary deviations, Seifer stuck to a strictly chronological narrative. I think I enjoyed this book more than I would have otherwise because I'm a huge fan of the Syfy shows Eureka and Warehouse 13. Those shows make so many allusions to Tesla and his contemporaries and they also get those references (for the most part) right. While I did not mind the more technical portions of the narrative devoted to Tesla'a inventions and breakthroughs, I know that some might find the specificity off-putting. One thing that bothered me was the lack of quotation designation. This probably is due in large part to the fact that I read the book as an audiobook. Listening made it hard to distinguish between quote and narrative. Also, some of the transitions in Tesla's life are unclear in the book. I must give the disclaimer that it may have been due to inattention on my part though the books is a little fuzzy at some points. One other pet peeve that drove me nuts was the author's far too frequent use of the word "utilize" instead of use. A history professor drilled that dislike (grammatical error actually) into me years ago and it still sticks. :) I did enjoy the book despite the British narrators awkward American accent and would recommend it to anyone how wants to learn about one of the greatest inventors of all time.


This was a good but difficult book. The author is intent on putting down in meticulous detail the life of this amazing character and in doing so skips around with chaotic effect. Tesla knew and interacted with many famous people of his time and it was hard keeping track of his interactions with them as the author related stories and jumped from one character to another.The author relates in detail the many inventions and ideas that Nikola Tesla advanced that were subsequently used by other inventors who gave no credit to Tesla and in fact stole his ideas. There are many instances depicted where Tesla is depicted as constantly fighting to convince the world that his ideas were stolen by other famous inventors. There are chapters which begin with one topic and then switch for no particular reason to another seemingly unrelated topic.There are things I liked about the book. I liked reading about Teslas conviction that he could communicate with Mars and how he had a vision of the world wide web and cellular communication. I was fascinated with the struggles Tesla had in the Wardenclyffe project.I liked the depiction of Teslas relationship to Katherine Underwood Johnson and would have liked a more satisfying telling of that relationship. The author simply announces at one point a list of people who died and Katherine is among this list. This is the main problem I had with this book. The organization requires better editing.Another aspect of the book that turned me off was the constant detail concerning monetary and financial problems. It seems like Tesla was constantly concerned with obtaining funding for his many inventions. I suppose this is the plight of many an inventor but I would have preferred less detailing of this (to me) boring topic.Although I struggled with this book, I did enjoy reading about this great man's life and work and would recommend this book for anyone interested in Nikola Tesla.

John Kaess

The biography of Nikola Tesla. I wish someone would tell me why we learn about Thomas Edison in school, but not Nikola Tesla. NOTHING we have in our current society would be possible without the inventions and research this great man did. He is responsible for AC current which powers virtually every home and business in the world. Edison was in business making DC current and fighting a battle with Tesla (which Edison lost, thankfully) to have his vastly inferior form of electricity (because DC voltage and current drop over distance and can't be distributed for more than a few miles from where it is generated, while AC current can go for hundreds of miles). Tesla invented the florescent light (Edison did incandescent). Tesla invented remote control boats and vehicles. Tesla invented the oscillators which are the basis of radio transmission which Marconi pirated illegally and took the credit for (this was proven in court and Tesla was vindicated as the true inventor of radio transmission). These are but the tip of the iceberg. Tesla is without any doubt the greatest inventor in the history of mankind. He was also pretty flakey and had a huge ego and an inability to make sound financial decisions, but that does not take away from the greatness of his intellect and ability to see the potential of things that others had never given any thought to. The book is well written, though be aware that by it's nature, it does deal with science and inventions which the average person may be unaware of. I did not have any problem following most of the content.

Michael Bartolone

Finally finished this book off, after three months of stops and starts.The fact that it took me so long to finish is an indication in itself of how I felt about this book at times. It was extremely dense, with many difficult to follow technical explanations. The recitation of Tesla's life events also read at times like an encyclopedia entry, jumping around without any logical or narrative flow other than chronology - "on April 1, 1892, he did this, on September 15, 1892, he did that," etc. However, the way Tesla's life intersected with other luminaries of the era - Mark Twain, Stanford White, J. P. Morgan, among others - was fascinating, and Seifer did a great job of interrelating them. I particularly enjoyed the passages that examined Tesla's motivations, personality quirks, and ideas about how he viewed the world and arrived at his discoveries. Most of these were examined through painstaking research of Tesla's personal correspondence.One of the most rewarding things about this book was that it gave a much more even-handed view of Tesla's life than that of the modern-day cult hero perpetuated by Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal, among others. Tesla detested Marconi for example, and while he probably had good reason, he was far from magnanimous in letting Marconi use his patents. Tesla was also petulant and lived far beyond his means, which contributed significantly to his downfall and lack of stability in later life. The story of Edison sabotaging Tesla at every turn is also overblown. Tesla was a visionary however, and it's amazing to contemplate how his ideas affect our everyday lives. It's too bad this book was written in 1997, before the explosion of the Internet and modern devices like smart phones. It would have been really interesting to see how Seifer applied Tesla's work to those concepts. And it is absolutely true that Tesla was held back and taunted by powerful forces that had a lot to lose from his ideas, most notably J. Pierpont Morgan.Overall, a very dense, and at times dull, but amazing historical read.

Steven Peterson

Nikola Tesla was without a doubt a genius when it came to electricity and engineering. Have you ever been in wonder at the electric power produced by Niagara Falls? Well, this was a product of Tesla's insights and work.The book traces nicely the trajectory of Tesla's career. We learn of his youth and his formative influences. He moved to the United States and began his work inventing devices. Early on, he came up with an electrical system--A.C.--as opposed to Thomas Edison's D.C. The two ended up--at best--as frenemies, and often sniped with one another. The same with Guglielmo Marconi.When one considers Tesla's discoveries, it is clear that he was a major figure in his field. He gained the support of major figures, such as George Westinghouse. But, with time, he began to deliver less and less, as some of his eccentricities took center stage. At one point, he thought he was receiving signals from Mars. His eccentricity did not work in his favor.And he liked to live well. But he met with reverses. He created Wardenclyffe, an enormous effort to develop wireless communication that could cover stupefying distances. Because of his poor business model, all was lost.The book well covers his genius--and his shortcomings and stubbornness.Want to learn more about a genuine genius? Take a look at this work. It is not always the most elegantly written, but the work is still quite readable. Documentation is solid.

Dave Peticolas

There are a number of Tesla biographies now available. I suspect I may have picked the wrong one. Much of it is serviceable and the bare facts of Tesla's life and times, presented copiously and in rigid chronological order, are interesting enough to make up for a plodding style. There are, however, definite flaws. For some reason the author chose to highlight a platonic romance between Tesla and a married friend. The details are totally uninteresting and its dramatizations are painful to read. It is as if an editorial mistake had strewn random pages of a lukewarm romance novel into a Tesla biography. Every bit of it could have been left out and the result would have been an unmitigated improvement.There are other problems. The author is a 'psycho-historian' and uses Freudian psychology and handwriting analysis to speculate on the motives of various subjects. I was not convinced. And the final chapters get well into conspiracy-theory territory in their speculations on what may have been done with Tesla's work on "death rays" among other things.Tesla is certainly worth reading about, but if you do I'd recommend passing on this one.


When I review a biography, I usually start by saying "look how awesome this guy is" and then rambling about his appearance, his style, etc.Well, look how awesome this guy is. He's like a more dashing Marcel Proust. He's got a handsome but not showy mustachio. He's got that cool oiled hair thing going on.But Tesla's coolness is more about his showmanship. He took this terrifying, new thing called electricity, stuff that comes down from the sky and explodes trees and cows, and he just sits there reading a magazine while it rages around him. Or he'll walk out on a stage into the midst of bolts of electricity, walking through it like it's a waterfall instead of magical death light, protected only by the cork lining his shoes.And it's not just Tesla's wacky experiments that make him so compelling. It's his personality and his history of hardships. He's a tragic figure, the Melville of science, who ran into some fame and fortune, but was ultimately condemned to a life of struggle and a death alone in a hotel room.I won't force you to read this book. But you should at least read the Wikipedia article because this dude is really interesting.


I endorse this book. If this book were a person, that person would kick Chuck Norris' ass. If this book were edible, your head would explode from the sheer ecstasy. If this book were a sound, your ears would explode--twice. I must warn you, though. If you aren't worthy, then this book will burn your hands upon contact. Only the most devote individuals have ever been known to hold this book and survive, let alone read it.In other words, this book is awesome.

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *